“Surely You’re Joking, Mr Feynman!” Adventures Of A Curious Character
If you only have time to read one Feynman book, make it this one. ‘Surely You’re Joking, Mr Feynman!’ is as close as you’ll come to an audience with the man himself.
Transcribed and edited by Ralph Leighton, Feynman’s stories of safecracking, drawing nudes and playing the bongos are interwoven with his life in science.
The title comes from a misunderstanding of etiquette at a college tea party – airs and graces being a particular Feynman bugbear.
The Pleasure Of Finding Things Out
Richard Feynman wasn’t a writer, so this collection of short pieces edited by Jeffrey Robbins consists mostly of transcribed talks and interviews.
It is, however, a complete joy, showcasing his extraordinary curiosity in everything from the future of computers to pseudoscience and even religion.
Also included are his report on the Shuttle Challenger disaster and the seminal talk, ‘There’s plenty of room at the bottom’, which anticipated the nanotechnology revolution.
The Character Of Physical Law
In 1964, Feynman presented the Messenger Lectures at Cornell University. This is a record of those talks, in which he outlines some of the fundamentals of physics.
Apparently with the aid of very few lecture notes, Feynman explained gravity, mathematical laws, symmetry, probability and more to a packed theatre.
There are a handful of diagrams and very few equations, making this his most accessible book on physics.
“What Do You Care What Other People Think?” Further Adventures Of A Curious Character
The second volume of recollections edited by Ralph Leighton centres on Feynman’s time on the committee that investigated the Shuttle Challenger disaster.
It reveals the shockingly poor communication between the engineers who built the Shuttle and NASA management, culminating in Feynman’s demonstration on live TV.
The poignant title of this book comes from Feynman’s first wife, who died of tuberculosis.
QED: The Strange Theory Of Light and Matter
QED is short for the theory of quantum electrodynamics, which describes how light and matter interact, and it won Feynman the Nobel Prize in 1965.
Edited by Ralph Leighton, this book is a transcript of lectures on the topic he gave at UCLA.
The lectures were intended for the layman, but you’ll probably find it hard going if you’ve never studied any physics.
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